Jacoby Ellsbury’s Unpredictable Career Means Red Sox Have Difficult Decision Looming in Center Field

Jacoby Ellsbury's Unpredictable Career Means Red Sox Have Difficult Decision Looming in Center FieldEditor’s note: Didier Morais will review each position for the Red Sox for the 2013 season.

Jacoby Ellsbury has been a mystery during his career with the Red Sox.

Through his first three seasons in Boston, the outfielder blossomed into a slightly above-average contributor. He sparked the offense with his baserunning and a solid batting average, but he only mustered 20 home runs in that span.

Then, in 2011, Ellsbury churned out an unprecedented performance by his standards, finishing as the runner-up for the American Leage MVP award after delivering 32 homers, 105 RBIs, 39 steals and a .321 average.

While he has shown his unique ability, Ellsbury has also experienced issues staying on the field. The 29-year-old missed significant chunks of the 2010 and 2012 seasons with a flurry of injuries.

Six years into his major league career, Ellsbury is still a question mark. Was his 2011 season just a fluke or a sign of things to come? Is he really injury-prone or just unlucky?

Ellsbury, who will be a free agent after the 2013 season, and agent Scott Boras will try to leverage the 2011 season for a lucrative contract. They’ll likely point to Carl Crawford‘s seven-year, $142 million contract as a starting point for negotiations. Given the uncertainty surrounding Ellsbury and the fact that the Red Sox plan to curtail their big spending, it should make for an interesting storyline. The onus thus falls on Boston general manager Ben Cherington to decide Ellsbury’s fate.

If Cherington doesn’t think the two sides will be able to reach a compromise, he may look into trading the outfielder. Ellsbury’s youth and skill set could be exchanged for a pitcher.

The team also has a budding center field prospect in Jackie Bradley Jr. waiting in the wings. Bradley’s ETA in the majors could coincide with the end of Ellsbury’s contract, possibly giving Boston added leverage.

Should Ellsbury remain with the Red Sox, the 2013 season will be pivotal for his career. He’ll have a chance to either validate his 2011 exploits or become relegated to a one-hit wonder.

Click here to see some potential free agent targets for the Red Sox >>

Have a question for Didier Morais? Send it to him via Twitter at @DidierMorais or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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